Push for Play in all of D.C.’s Homeless Shelters

Posted by on Jun 1, 2018 in Advocacy, Blog, Featured Stories |

by Jamila Larson, Executive Director

Artist Kate DeCiccio worked with Playtime youth to create murals along the hallways at D.C. General.

The construction fencing is closing in on D.C. General, ready to swallow up our playground and the shelter that has been Playtime’s largest site for the past decade. As the city prepares to close the notorious shelter in September, this bleak symbol of child and family homelessness will no longer serve as a visible reminder—a reminder that children and families make up the majority of homeless people in our city.

Homeless services for families is being decentralized, and while the seven new replacement shelters are being constructed, overflow shelter hotels are expected to continue to house the majority of children and families experiencing homelessness. It’s important to raise awareness about the “hidden homeless” who will soon be even more hidden behind hotel doors along New York Avenue.

Over the past fifteen years of our existence, Playtime has always tried to “follow the children” where they are. That’s why we’ll be bringing the healing power of play to the Days Inn and the Holiday Inn Express beginning in September when D.C. General closes its doors. Our experience at the Quality Inn has taught us that, though we don’t have our own dedicated playrooms, Playtime can work in less traditional shelter settings where we pack up after each session—what we call “pop-up Playtime.”

As we prepare to move out of our largest program site at D.C. General in August, it’s clear that the hotel-turned-shelters where 800 children and their families live are not designed with children in mind. There are no specialized onsite services or programs designed to meet their special needs. There is no laundry access or stores nearby, and public transportation to access school and services is sparse. While hotels feel more dignified than a setting like D.C. General, these hotels function as homeless shelters, and the feeling that kids can’t be free to be kids is palpable.

I’ll never forget the first night we brought Playtime to the Quality Inn, a child asked, “You mean we can run in here? We’re never allowed to run in here!”

Playtime’s role is to bring transformative play experiences to children in the shelters where they live, and through these experiences we cultivate resilience, build self-esteem, and nurture healthy child development. We also work to ensure they receive the services and supports they deserve to weather the storm of homelessness.

Help us push for play in all shelters across the District of Columbia. Talk to your friends and elected officials about the need to prioritize play in the city’s new-build shelters and overflow shelter hotels. Share our posts on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #Push4Play.

The crisis may become less visible, but that just means our voices and our presence must become stronger.

Jamila ran Playtime as a volunteer since it was founded in 2003 and assumed the role as first full-time Executive Director in 2009. In 2012, she was named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine for her leadership of Playtime.